The Real Deal New York

Political brethren

De Blasio's top real estate allies

February 01, 2016
By Konrad Putzier

From left: Rob Speyer, Bruce Ratner and John Banks

From left: Rob Speyer, Bruce Ratner and John Banks

Mayor Bill de Blasio may not be known as a best friend to the industry, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t cultivated some significant industry allies. Below is a look at three top real estate players with whom the mayor is particularly tight.

Rob Speyer
CEO, Tishman Speyer

When Bill de Blasio was elected mayor in late 2013, Rob Speyer was not just the co-CEO of one of New York’s biggest development firms, he was also serving his first term as president of the Real Estate Board of New York, the industry’s powerful lobbying arm.

In other words: He was a good person for Bill de Blasio to get to know better.

The two men became so close that Speyer even hosted a birthday party for the mayor at Gracie Mansion in May 2014. That same year, de Blasio reappointed Speyer as co-chair (along with de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray) of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, a nonprofit that supports public-private partnerships. He had chaired the board since 2006.

But the relationship is not without friction. Tishman Speyer did not include affordable housing in its $875 million Long Island City rental development but still received a 421a tax abatement. In a March New York Times story, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen called the development a “great example of why we need to change the status quo.”

Bruce Ratner
Chairman, Forest City Companies

De Blasio’s close ties to developer Bruce Ratner were controversial enough to become an election issue in 2013. De Blasio’s Republican rival, Joseph Lhota, accused him of being soft on Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project. “I’m on the record about holding their feet to the fire, something Bill de Blasio has not done,” Lhota said on the campaign trail in October 2013, according to Politico New York.

As the city’s public advocate, de Blasio supported Ratner’s Barclays Center and Atlantic Yards development (now renamed Pacific Park) despite fierce local opposition.

In 2011, Ratner co-chaired a fundraiser for de Blasio’s mayoral campaign at the Waldorf Astoria. More recently, in 2014, de Blasio appointed Ratner to the host committee for the 2016 Democratic National Convention and picked the Barclays Center as its venue.

With these ties in mind, some were alarmed in January 2015 when an LLC controlled by Forest City won city backing to issue more than $90 million in tax-exempt bonds to refinance a planned office tower near the Barclays Center. Good Jobs for New York, a taxpayer advocacy group, called the deal a “red flag.” The administration, however, denied any conflict of interest. “To suggest that politics are at play here is absolutely baseless,” a spokesperson for de Blasio told the Wall Street Journal.

John Banks
President, Real Estate Board of New York

Part of REBNY’s role is to ensure that all’s well between the real estate industry and City Hall, so it’s fitting the trade group picked a close friend of de Blasio’s as its new president in late 2013.

John Banks, like the mayor, is a long-time resident of Park Slope and boasts a long career in politics. He started out as an aide to Mayor Ed Koch and in the 1990s worked in the City Council’s finance department while de Blasio was working for Mayor David Dinkins. In the early 2000s, the two briefly crossed paths in the City Council, when Banks was serving as the Council’s chief of staff and de Blasio was a newly elected councilman representing Brooklyn’s 39th District.

In 2002, Banks was tapped to manage government relations for utility company Con Edison, first as director and later as vice president. Over a decade later, when de Blasio was elected mayor in 2013, he served on the transition team. According to a source familiar with the mayor’s cabinet appointment discussions, Banks was considered for a permanent, high-ranking position in the administration but ultimately wound up at REBNY, where he’s perhaps an even more powerful ally.

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